Journalist who faked death: I didn’t want to share Skripal’s fate

Russian dissident journalist Arkady Babchenko (right) takes his portrait from deputy chief of the Crimean Tatar channel ATR Aider Muzhdabaiev as he visits the office of the channel in Kiev, Ukraine. Picture: REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

KIEV – Dissident Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko said on Thursday he collaborated in a plot to fake his own death because he feared being targeted for assassination like former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.

Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday night that Babchenko, a Kremlin critic, had been gunned down in his apartment building in Kiev. Pictures of his body in a pool of blood were published and officials suggested Russia was behind the assassination, something Moscow flatly denied.

A day later, Babchenko walked to the podium at a televised news briefing about his death. Ukrainian security officials said they staged his apparent murder to thwart and expose a Russian plot to assassinate him.

That drew criticism from some media defenders and commentators who questioned whether the ruse and the false outpouring of grief and finger-pointing at Russia it generated had undermined credibility in journalism itself and in Kiev, handing the Kremlin a propaganda gift in the process.

Babchenko hit back in a joint interview in Kiev on Thursday, saying that he had gone along with the ruse, organized by Ukrainian security officials, because he feared for his life.

“Everyone who says this undermines trust in journalists: what would you do in my place, if they came to you and said there is a hit out on you?” Babchenko said, saying concerns about his life had to take precedence over worries about journalistic ethics.

Babchenko said he was exhausted after playing out the elaborate ruse. When Ukrainian security officials had approached him with information about a Russian plot to kill him, “my first reaction was: ‘To hell with you, I want to pack a bag and disappear to the North Pole.’”

 

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